WHO health briefing on Iraq
Today to mark World Health Day and its theme of "Healthy Environments for Children" we want to focus on the 12 million children in Iraq (half of the population) and the impact war is having on their lives. The fundamental right of any child is the right to life and that right is under serious threat in Iraq. Wars inevitably have a major impact on civilians, and particularly on children. We have all seen some very disturbing pictures of child victims of this conflict - children with burn injuries, a young boy lying in a hospital bed, both his arms blown off. And away from the cameras, these scenes are being repeated every day. The World Health Organization again reminds of all sides in the conflict of their obligations to avoid injuries to civilians.
Hundreds of civilians are being injured, every day. And civilian injuries have a double impact on children - whether or not they are the direct victims, they may find themselves without a mother, a father, brothers or sisters. And don't forget that many of the "military casualties" we hear about are men whose children will now have to grow up without them.
Those who are injured and survive may end up in hospital needing treatment for third degree burns, or having limbs amputated and never again being able to run properly or play. Hospitals in Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq are being overwhelmed by the numbers of injured people being brought in for treatment. Many are reported to be running short of supplies of medicines, anaesthetics and basic equipment. Some hospitals and health centres have also been affected by the damage to electricity and water supplies. Even those with functioning back-up generators may not have access to regular supplies of clean, safe water. Treating people and particularly conducting surgical operations under these circumstances is extremely dangerous for the health of patients.
Even before this conflict began, the children of Iraq were suffering from the combined impact of poverty and international sanctions. Infant mortality rates before the war began were twice as high as those in 1990. One in eight Iraqi children dies before reaching the age of five, one in three is undernourished, one in four begins life as an underweight baby. The three biggest child killers are acute respiratory infection, diarrhoeal diseases and measles.
Damage to electricity and water systems, combined with rising temperatures, will only increase the risk of diarrhoea and other diseases, add to the difficulties of women giving birth, and kill even more children.
WHO is also extremely concerned about the psychological impact of conflict, fear, and the loss of family members or neighbours on Iraqi children. The physical and psychological damage of conflict could take years to heal, and are likely to leave many permanent scars.
The United Nations humanitarian agencies have appealed for US$ 325 million to cover the immediate health, nutrition, water and sanitation needs of the most vulnerable populations, particularly women and children. With half of the population representing the future of the country, it is absolutely imperative for all to ensure the rapid reinstatement of a safe environment for children to grow up in.
Health is a fundamental right of children. It is our responsibility to create conditions for children that safeguard their health.
For further information, please contact WHO spokespersons Fadela Chaib in Amman (00 4179 475 5556) or Iain Simpson in Geneva (00 4179 475 5534)
The following WHO specialists are available to respond to media questions:
Dr G Popal, Head of the WHO country office in Iraq (+962 795 7092)
Dr Mohamed Jama, Deputy Regional Director, WHO Eastern Mediterranean Regional Office, Cairo (+202 276 5026 )
Dr Jim Tulloch, WHO Regional Health Coordinator, (+4179 509 0640)
Dr David Nabarro, WHO Executive Director, Geneva (+41 22 791 2363, +41 79 217 3446)